What’s the difference between a font and a typeface?

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We take typography very seriously – it’s one of the most effective and simple tools for effective graphic design. Using the right typeface can be the difference between your communication standing out, or blending into the pack… unless what you’re going for is just another document set out in Calibri (Microsoft Word’s default font). Not what you want? Here’s how to fix it.

Selecting the right font takes just a couple of minutes. It’s one of the quickest and simplest ways to improve your communication collateral. Typeface choices have generated big news in the design world recently, with Twitter and Apple both making big (controversial) changes – proof that a good typeface selection can put your content front and centre, while a bad one can distract from your main message.

Want to start using great typeface choices to radically improve your communications? Here’s a whitepaper we made for you.

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The most common mistake that most people make is mixing up fonts with typefaces, or treating them as the same thing. Many an obnoxious well-meaning designer has corrected a beginner for mistakenly using the word font when he or she should have said typeface. We know that you are one of the discerning people who actually thinks about which font you are going to use in your Powerpoint. The distinction between the terms can seem confusing, but it’s pretty simple. For any normal person out there (not the designers): a font is what you use, a typeface is what you see.

Font vs Typeface

To have this make sense, we need to look back in time to before digital  printing, when every page was laboriously set out in frames with metal letters. That was rolled in ink, and then it was pressed down onto a clean piece of paper. That was a page layout. Printers needed thousands of physical metal blocks, each with the character it was meant to represent set out in relief (the type face). If you wanted to print Garamond, for example, you needed different blocks for every different size (10 point, 12 point, 14 point, and so on) and weight (bold, light, medium).

This is where we get the terms typeface and font. In the example above, Garamond would be the typeface: It described all of the thousands of metal blocks a printer might have on hand and which had been designed with the same basic design principles. But a font was something else entirely. A font described a subset of blocks in that very typeface – each font encompassing a particular size and weight. For example, bolded Garamond in 12 point was considered a different font than normal Garamond in 8 point, and italicized Times New Roman at 24 point would be considered a different font than italicized Times New Roman at 28 point.

So, if you really want people to respect you at your next dinner party you can fire up this little gem of typographic know how:

Typeface and font can be used interchangeably at this point. But if you come across an annoying pedant who cares deeply about maintaining the distinction for the masses, just remember this: the difference between a font and a typeface is the same as that between songs and an album. The former makes up the latter. Now go out there and impress your friends.

This post is an adaptation of a post from Fast Company.






Published by Ross

Ross grew up on the wrong side of the Jukskei. He studied at Vega and was awarded the Top Student prize at his graduation. After working as a freelancer for four years, he founded Nicework with Ben Vorster. He has a penchant for Scandinavian wood furniture and really nice shirts. He is open to bribery- all iPads are welcome. He also likes chocolate cake and is happily married.

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